The Detroit Lions are set to kick off their 2021 training camp at the end of the month and while several positions have clear starters in place, there is still a plethora of camp battles that will decide the latter part of the team’s roster.
As we head towards camp, this is the first in a new series of articles at Pride of Detroit that will focus on those camp battles, exploring who is in the mix and who will need a terrific August in order to make the 53-man roster.
Setting the table
Let’s be clear, Jared Goff is the starter. They’ve invested a large amount of capital, talked up his skills, and have said he’s the man they plan to work with this season. If there were any who still believed he would be seriously challenged for that position—looking at you Green Bay Packers beat writers/fans—that line of thinking was put to bed in OTAs and minicamp when Goff received the Lions share of snaps and easily outperformed his competition.
If anything, there is now a question surrounding who will be the Lions' QB2 this season, as free-agent Tim Boyle and returning QB David Blough didn’t have as much separating them on the field in the Spring.
Quarterback backup battle
With Blough the only quarterback the Lions retained from the previous regime, general manager Brad Holmes trusted Lance Newmark’s (director of player personnel) evaluation of Boyle and the team made a solid push for him in free agency, signing him to a one-year $2.5 million deal.
Boyle, who spent the last three seasons as Aaron Rodgers’ direct backup in Green Bay, was presumed to be the front runner for that same position behind Goff in Detroit, based on his glowing (preseason) resume.
“You got to back to (20)19 and watch the preseason, but he did a really good job then and then last year, he was their No. 2 guy,” Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said. “So they brought in a guy to be No. 2 (they drafted Jordan Love in the first round) and Tim beat him out. Tim was backup for a reason, but he’s a big young man with another strong arm and he’s picking up the system pretty quick, too. I’m looking forward to seeing those guys all go to camp and compete when we get into some more competitive situations.”
The arrows all pointed up for Boyle in March but he didn’t look very sharp in May practices and certainly wasn’t living up to the hype he had garnered before joining the Lions. Maybe it was because he was familiarizing himself with a new scheme. Maybe he plays better in pads or against a pass rush. Maybe his Green Bay magic has yet to translate into Honolulu Blue. But regardless of the reason, he left the door open for Blough.
Blough looked sharp in camp, and while he was also learning a new playbook, he didn’t have any issues translating it onto the field. There are still some physical traits Blough has to overcome, but he has shown the intelligence and accuracy to stick as a reserve in the NFL.
It’s also possible this competition carries over into the regular season depending on how the Lions construct their roster.
Holmes will likely lean on his experiences with Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead when creating organizational philosophies, but he has also shown he is willing to implement his own ideas. If Holmes follows Snead’s lead with regards to quarterbacks, it’s possible only two make the initial 53-man roster. Over the past three seasons, the Rams have only allocated spots for two quarterbacks on the active roster while adding a third on the practice squad.
But can Holmes afford to do this with Blough or Boyle?
This was the same approach the Lions used last season—initially placing Blough on the practice squad—but they needed to promote him to the active roster after the Dallas Cowboys tried to poach him five games into the season. With regards to Boyle, he may not even make it to the practice squad, as it was rumored several teams were after his services in free agency.
Holmes’ decision will also likely be influenced by the Lions coaching staff. Over the past four seasons in New Orleans, coach Dan Campbell has seen the Saints roster three quarterbacks, though one of them has been Taysom Hill, and pre-Hill, they only rostered two. Holmes/Campbell will also likely take Lynn’s opinion into consideration as well, and during his four seasons as head coach of the Chargers, they rostered three quarterbacks in three of them.
Both players only have a handful of NFL game experience and 2021 snaps with the Lions to base an evaluation on. Blough’s tape is mainly from the 2019 regular season (five starts) and Boyle’s during the 2018 and 2019 preseason, but at this time, there’s no definitive answer as to how they will perform this season.
Boyle has been running with the second team, has NFL-level arm strength, and while he has struggled in Allen Park, his in-game (preseason) accuracy has been on point. Meanwhile, Blough has been with the threes, lacks arm strength, is very accurate in practice but lacks results in-game. He has plenty of confidence to lead, and the biggest edge he has is at overall in-game experience—but that could have gone better.
For now, I’m penciling in Boyle onto my depth chart as QB2 and sending Blough to the practice squad.
This competition is far from settled, and I don’t expect Blough to just go away, but this team targeted Boyle and has been giving him the first opportunity to see the field. There’s a reason for that.